Livings the Good Life

Writer Earns Spot at Academy in Rome

Jack Livings

Jack Livings

NEW YORK, NY (May 20, 2016) – Winnsboro native Jack Livings has won a 2016 Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy in Rome. The literary fellowship, awarded annually to two writers, provides for 11 months in residence at the American Academy in Rome (beginning in September), a writing studio, daily meals and a $28,000 stipend. The Academy also welcomes the winners’ spouses and children. Livings was presented with the award in a ceremony at the New School in New York City on April 21.

Livings, 41, said his time in Rome will be focused on finishing his novel-in-progress, which is already under contract with publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux as the second of a two-book deal. His first book, a collection of short stories called “The Dog,” won the $25,000 PEN/Bingham award in 2015. During his year in Italy, Livings will be on book leave from his job as International Editor in Licensing and Syndication at Time, Inc. in New York City.

“I’m most looking forward to having the time to work,” he said in a telephone interview with The Voice. “It will be great to be in Rome, to learn some Italian and travel around some. But uprooting from everything that we have here, and going over there – if not for the work, I would never do it. I wouldn’t just take a year off and go to Rome. I’m doing this only because it affords me the chance to get consistent, concentrated work done. And it just happens to be in a great, beautiful, historic place.”

While the two literature fellowships are awarded solely through nomination by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 28 other Rome Prizes are awarded to artists and scholars who apply with projects in fields such as art history, musical composition, visual arts, ancient history, architecture and medieval studies.

“One of the great things about the Academy is that you’re around a lot of really interesting people,” Livings said, “and more people kind of cycle through on shorter visits, like Zadie Smith, who came through for a month one year.”

Livings’ wife, writer Jennie Yabroff, and their three-year-old daughter Anna will also be spending the year in Rome with him.

“My older daughter, Eleanor, will be 12, and she’s going to stay in New York with her mother,” he said. “It just seemed like a really bad idea to yank her out of New York and take her away from her friends and the activities she enjoys, chorus and basketball. It’ll be tough not to see her as much, but we’re planning for her to come over pretty frequently, at least every month, for long visits.”

Livings’ current schedule involves waking up at 4:30 a.m. to write for a couple of hours before heading to the office, and he said he’ll definitely keep to a morning schedule in Rome – though perhaps not quite such an early one.

“I’ll let myself sleep until maybe 7 o’clock,” he said with a laugh. “Seriously though, I think I get better work done before lunch. So if I want to do five or six really good hours of work, I need to do it before noon.”

The novel itself, he said, is going well, although sometimes it seems to have a mind of its own.

“Before, I was always just interested in short stories, and I put a lot of effort into learning that form. A short story is so tightly packed. So for me this is a new form,” he said. “A short story is like a shoebox filled with mementos – your grandmother’s necklace, your grandfather’s pen, a lobster claw, a rock from somewhere. You can pick each one up individually and examine it, but you can also see the contents of the box, all at one time. But a novel, at least to me, is like a warehouse stacked floor to ceiling and wall to wall with shoeboxes. You can’t conceivably keep it all in your mind at one time, so you’re just sort of going on good faith most of the time. And that’s what’s nice about this thing in Rome – I might actually be able to concentrate hard enough to do it well, or at least to approach doing it well, because a novel just requires so much more sustained concentration than short stories.”

Raised in Winnsboro, where his mother, Laurens Livings, still resides, Livings graduated from Richard Winn Academy in 1992. After majoring in English at Davidson College, he earned a Masters in Fine Arts in fiction from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 2000, he was one of five writers selected for the prestigious Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Fiction at Stanford University.